World No.1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia will take on No.3 Spaniard Rafael Nadal in their sixth Italian Open title clash on Sunday.
In the second semi-final match, played on Saturday, top seed Djokovic beat local hope Lorenzo Sonego 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2. Second seed Nadal had earlier beaten American Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, breaking once in each set.
Nadal holds the edge with three wins to Djokovic’s two in previous finals while the Spaniard is bidding for a 10th Italian Open title and his opponent a sixth.
Sunday’s encounter will be a rematch of the 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2019 finals. The two players will meet for the 57th time.
Djokovic and Nadal have faced off eight times previously at the Foro Italico, dating back to their first meeting in the 2007 quarter-finals. Nadal won that match comfortably, before their rivalry grew over the years.
Nadal has a 5-3 lead in their Rome matchups while Djokovic now boasts the overall ATP Head2Head edge in their legendary rivalry (29-27).
On Saturday, Sonego saved two match points in the second set, before Djokovic won the match in the third.
“I only have myself to blame for not closing the match in straight sets. I need to recover, that’s what I’m focused on,” said Djokovic.
“I don’t have much time and I’ve played a lot of tennis so, hopefully, I’ll have fresh legs, because that’s what I’ll definitely need and it’s necessary in order to have a chance against Rafa.”
Nadal’s win against Opelka in his 500th match on clay extended his record to 458 wins and 42 losses. The win maintained the Spaniard’s perfect record in semi-finals in the Italian capital.
Djokovic said Nadal was his biggest rival.
“It’s great to play him again in the final. He’s the guy that I have encountered the most in my career,” Djokovic said after his semi-final match.
“[He is] definitely my biggest rival of all time. Playing him on clay in the finals of one of the biggest tournaments in the world is always extra motivating for me. Even after all we have been through in our careers there’s still this excitement when we have to face each other.”
Djokovic will be aiming for a strong start and an early lead against Nadal on Sunday, as he knows better than anyone how dangerous it can be to give the Spaniard any kind of an advantage on the red clay.
Djokovic beat Sonego in two hours and 44 minutes. By contrast, Nadal spent just over an hour and a half on court on Saturday in his semi-final against big-serving Reilly Opelka, breaking once in each set of his 6-4, 6-4 victory.
“I think I played the match that I had to play I had two breaks, two sets. That’s a positive thing for me. [To] be in the final again here means a lot to me,” Nadal said at his post-match press conference.
“I have been playing better, worse, but always [trending] in a positive line. I am playing better when the weeks are coming. Here, I had a very tough draw and I was able to find a way to be in the final.”